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A report on racial profiling

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Mayor Rocky Anderson deserves credit for ordering Salt Lake police to track the races of motorists who were pulled over, in an effort to determine whether police are guilty of racial profiling.

After three months of collecting the data, police say preliminary reports suggest there's not a systemic problem with racial profiling among Salt Lake police officers. We hope that evidence will bear out over the long run. However, police should be careful about drawing any conclusions over data that is, at best, a snap shot. As this page has said before, law enforcers need data to determine whether departments or individual officers are profiling suspects primarily by race. Any meaningful data needs to be collected over a long time span.

While police defend the study, questions about its methodology abound. For instance, the study uses the ethnic makeup of the Salt Lake School District to extrapolate the makeup of the community at-large. Is this a valid comparison? The flaw here is that not every driver pulled over by Salt Lake police necessarily lives in Salt Lake City.

And, while the reported number of traffic citations issued by police to motorists of different racial categories is interesting, it doesn't account for the percentage of traffic stops of people of different ethnicities that resulted in citations. Such information would directly address the concerns of people such as the Rev. France Davis, a black minister who has lived in Salt Lake City for 27 years. He said he is pulled over by police nearly every month, yet he has been ticketed only once.

A similar not-so-amusing anecdote was told at city hall about Dr. Mike Melendez, Anderson's former chief of staff, who was pulled over by police as he motored through the city in his Mercedes. He received no citation.

The point isn't whether someone pulled over receives a ticket, it's whether they are pulled over for cause.

Some members of minority communities question whether the data was somewhat tainted given that officers may well have been on their best behavior. They knew the data was being collected and analyzed. If this has resulted in greater awareness among police, it is difficult to find fault in that, but the pressure must continue.

It's important to get a handle on this issue. These preliminary measurements are just the beginning of what needs to be a long-term process, which must be refined over time.